Tuesday, December 06, 2016

R.I.P. 2016 Jim Harrison

"Sitting on the stump under the burden of his father's death and even the mortality inherent in the dying, wildly colored canopy of leaves, he somehow understood that life is only what one did every day."

Jim Harrison "The Man Who Gave Up His Name," in Legends of the Fall (1979)

“Why would anyone wish to be unique unless it was ultimately for the common good?”
Jim Harrison, "Tracking" (2005)

Born in 1937, Jim Harrison died in March of this year 2016.  He started publishing as a poet in the 1960s, which is how he first came to my attention.  I still have his 1971 volume Outlyer and Ghazals.  

He continued writing and publishing poetry throughout his life, as well as essays and observations, but his best known work is his fiction. His first famous work, probably still his most famous is "Legends of the Fall," which in addition to being a mythic story, began his legendary revival of the novella form.

One of his longer works was The Road Home (1998).  He said of that book that it "addresses the soul history of our country."  Its events are interlaced with those in a previous and much admired novel, Dalva.  Together they seem to me to qualify as a Great American Novel, of which there are but a few candidates from the later twentieth century.

I've read much (although not all) of his work, and have written about some. (I just collected some of those pieces over at Kowincidence.)  I kept trying to characterize what was unique about his writing.  My last attempt read: His paragraphs are like waterfalls of musically balanced sentences that don’t always relate in obvious ways. Observation, flashes of memory and epigram tumble together to achieve both bursts of illuminating surprise and a kind of mesmerizing momentum.

His work was often ribald and some of his protagonists were outrageous.  Harrison wrote about sex and Hollywood, but his physical appearance did not match up that well.  Blinded in one eye, riven by the tragic loss of his father and sister in the same car crash, he managed a long marriage and fatherhood as well as a writing life that remained productive to the end.

Harrison did not confine himself to contemporary urban domestic scenes that grip the literary Zeitgeist, but wrote about American history, the West and Midwest, rural and small towns, and particularly the human engagement with the natural world.  These are all reasons he didn't get more literary attention and prizes, though he did have plenty of admirers.

On another blog, I wrote this during the week of his death:  On Saturday, the day he died (though it wasn't announced until Sunday), I watched a video of the late psychologist James Hillman (who Harrison often quoted) saying that as humans, our job in the world is to fall in love with it. The New York Times obit Sunday quotes Will Blythe reviewing Harrison: “His books glisten with love of the world."

His allegiance was with this planet, in all its dimensions.  In one of his last books, his main characters notes that his sense of wonder is less engaged by billions of stars in the night sky than “the billions of green buds in thousands of acres of trees surrounding him.”

Though we never met we had people and places in common. He was nearly a decade older and we were just out of phase.  But there are a number of odd symmetries and coincidences (including in that photo above--for years I had exactly the same lamp in my writing area as appears there.)  As a writer he's been a touchstone and a teacher.  He's also endlessly quotable, especially from the interviews that often sound like one of his characters talking.

 In a preface to some poems, he wrote: "To write a poem you must first create a pen that will write what you want to say. For better or worse, this is the work of a lifetime."

His devotion to this vocation of writing sentences--which as a vocation is a total mystery to most people--is what will stay with me, keep me and maybe bless me, if I'm lucky.

He said on more than one occasion--and was caught doing so on video--that he'd like to be reborn as a tree.  Maybe one like this.  May he rest in peace.  His work lives on.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Elegy for Elegance

President Obama hosted his last Kennedy Center Honors at the White House Sunday.  In his remarks introducing the honored guests (actor Al Pacino, pianist Martha Argerich, songsters Mavis Staples, James Taylor and the Eagles) he referenced the origins of the awards--and the Kennedy Center--in the Kennedy administration's unprecedented support for the arts, including bringing artists of various kinds to the White House.  He mentioned that three grandchildren of Jack and Jackie Kennedy were present.

The Kennedy administration had succeeded in passing legislation to create a national center for the arts in Washington.  After the assassination, many thousands of Americans wrote letters to request that the center be named after John F. Kennedy.  I was one of them, and I still have the reply I received, affirming that it would indeed be called the Kennedy Center.

At a crucial moment in the 2008 primaries, JFK's daughter Caroline wrote an oped saying that she saw in Barack Obama many qualities of her father, and she was supporting him for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Those were her children at the White House Sunday.)

 That led to a cascade of Kennedys offering support, including Senator Ted Kennedy and even Maria Shriver, the wife of the Republican governor of California.  She showed up at an Obama celebrity event and spontaneously gave the campaign one of its signatures when she said "We are the people we have been waiting for."

In eight years in the White House, Barack and Michelle Obama have expanded the White House embrace of artists and entertainers, in quantity and in diversity.  The arts and entertainment communities clearly felt the connection.

This brief speech, eloquent and witty, and these events, demonstrate this President's ease with creators in arts and entertainment, including a knowledge, understanding and feeling for what they do.  This is perhaps even more remarkable in that he exhibits those same qualities in relation to achievers in the various sciences.

But this should remind us of another quality that the Obamas share with President and Mrs. Kennedy: elegance.  The style is different, but the elegance is unmistakable.  And that's something else we are really going to miss.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Defining the Darkness.8

When the real news is almost as fantastic as the fake news,and the fake news is about to take over the government...What follows is all from the Daily Beast article linked at the end...

"The real-life consequences of a made-up conspiracy theory swirling around a popular D.C. pizzeria became all too real when a gunman walked into the venue Sunday afternoon.

During the presidential campaign, some elements of the alt-right began fueling the conspiracy that Comet Ping Pong was in fact the site of a pedophilia ring used by high-ranking members of the Democratic Party, deeming that supposed conspiracy “Pizzagate.”

The D.C. Police Department arrested 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina, outside the kid-friendly pizza and music venue. Witnesses say that Welch went through the restaurant carrying the gun and tried to enter a staff area in the back of the building. He reportedly fired multiple shots inside, though no one was injured. He reportedly told the police that he’d come to “self-investigate ‘Pizza Gate,” which the department noted is “a fictitious online conspiracy theory.”

The conspiracy is untrue and easily disprovable. For example, the sex ring is supposed to be run out of the restaurant’s basement, but the owner told the BBC, “We don’t even have a basement.”

The fake news became so prominent that even retired Gen. Michael Flynn, whom Donald Trump has chosen to be his national security adviser, shared the story on his Twitter account.

Brief Shining Moment at Standing Rock

This is another story previously followed here.  A good moment, for however long it lasts...

The Washington Post:

"The Army said Sunday that it will not approve an easement necessary to permit the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, marking a monumental victory for the Native American tribes and thousands of others who have flocked in recent months to protest the oil pipeline.

“I’m happy as heck,” said Everett Iron Eyes, a retired director of natural resources for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and one of the organizers of a camp protesters set up near the pipeline site. “All our prayers have been answered.”

The victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and its allies could be short-lived, though. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to support pipelines such as this one. And Kelcy Warren, the chief executive of the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners, has been a major contributor to the Republican Party and Trump’s campaign.

Trump, who owned a $500,000 and $1 million stake in Energy Transfer Partners, has sold the shares, his spokeswoman Hope Hicks said. His most recent disclosure says he still owns a similar size stake in Phillips 66, which owns 25 percent of the Dakota Access line."

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Millennial Disaster

I swore I wouldn't get into this but it's in the nature of old business for this blog.  Back in October, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote a column headlined: Baby boomers have been a disaster for America, and Trump is their biggest mistake yet.  I wrote a spirited rejoinder.

Part of his thesis was that polls showed boomers slightly favoring Trump, though I disputed his numbers and their relevance.

Well, now the election is over and the statistics are in.  Did the baby boomers do in Hillary?  Nope.  It was the millennials.  And the numbers are clear, according to...well, the Washington Post.

Nationally, Clinton did better than Barack Obama among boomers over 65 by a point, and was down 3 points from Obama in the 45-64.  (The youngest boomer is 52.) She was down a point in Milbank's Generation X.  But Clinton did 5 points worse among millennials.

But that's just the national story.  According to exit polls, in the states that lost her the election she was down among millennials five points in Michigan, 16 points in Florida, 17 points in Pennsylvania and 20 points in Wisconsin.  That is, down from Obama--enough (according to the Post's The Fix) to cost her these states and the election.

Why?  When polls all showed Clinton winning among millennials by larger margins?  According to the Clinton campaign manager: He noted, for example, that younger voters, perhaps assuming that Clinton was going to win, migrated to third-party candidates in the final days of the race.

So millennials, forewarned by baby boomers like me, members of this failed generation, voted for Nader anyway.  And they got us Worse Than Bush.  Way way worse.

Who's a disaster for America?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Once Upon A Time There Was a President

      click photo to see original size

The slogan that quickly emerged for the anti-Trump demonstrations since the elections is a telling one: Not My President.  In some ways, it's useless to insist that in respect to the most meaningful forces and trends distorting political, economic and environmental situations around the world as well as within the US, who happens to be President is of lesser consequence.  The office is powerful, culturally influential but it is also archetypal.  We're always going to care who it is.

In grade school we learned (at least in my generation) that the new United States broke the tyranny of kings.  This leader of a nation and a society would be elected. By now, more of the people are enfranchised, and the presidency is the only office for which the entire nation votes.

So the President represents as well as leads us.  And we're affected in our sense of ourselves and our time by who holds the office.  This is despite the fact that for the majority of the years since 1960, the President has been somebody awful.  And that includes one who in my own modest way I worked to elect.

Who is "my" President?  My first was JFK.  My second and likely last President is Barack Obama.  The contrast between him and nearly every aspect of his presidency on every level, and his successor are so nearly opposite that no ordinary explanations can account for it.  Sure, there are political explanations and the election itself is a matter of numbers, not even the majority will.  But you can't get past the fact that, regardless of their tragically mis-perceived self interest (unless they were billionaires, and even then...) a lot of people voted to destroy the country and the future for everybody.  That kind of tears it for me.

 Yet none of that in the end matters, at least to me.  Only the fact of who is going to demean and diminish the office and all its archetypal ramifications...and of course what his administration will do.

So I mourn the presidency as I honor the current President for the last times.  Maybe some will stumble on these posts in the future, and get a visual idea of what the presidency could be, because that's, once upon a time, the way it was.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Defining the Darkness.7

No source for this thought on terrorism.  But it was said during the campaign that terrorist groups like ISIL would be ecstatic to see Trump win.  His xenophobic and specifically anti-Islamic rhetoric and possible actions are exactly the recruiting image of America these groups sell.

Perhaps they'll let the new administration show its cards first.  But eventually--and maybe sooner rather than later-- I expect maximum effort to pull off a major terrorist attack on a US target.

This will drive Trump to either fulminations of frustration but little more than Twitter rage, or (I'm sure they are hoping) a rash act, possibly involving nuclear weapons, and/or committing the US to extended and large-scale warfare.

It may be that the Obama administration has destroyed enough of the ISIL leadership and structure to make this much less likely.  ISIL etc. may be limited for awhile to taking credit for individual acts.  But their recruiting is likely to become more successful.  Active terrorism and whatever that provokes seems likely to be part of the darkness ahead.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Defining the Darkness.6

"Gutting Obamacare might be the least controversial part of Tom Price’s health care agenda.

By tapping the tea party Republican as his top health care official, President-elect Donald Trump sends a strong signal he may look beyond repealing and replacing Obamacare to try to scale back Medicare and Medicaid, popular entitlements that cover roughly 130 million people, many of whom are sick, poor and vulnerable. And that’s a turnabout from Trump’s campaign pledge — still on his campaign website — that he would leave Medicare untouched.

“They will … not just roll back five or 10 years of progress — but 50.” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group that supports Obamacare."


The Death of Superheroes

Superheroes have never been bigger box office. Legions of dedicated fans parsing each new film across the Internet sit among other less intense moviegoers out for spectacle, preferably in IMax and 3-D.

After some false starts in previous decades, the Marvel comic book-based movie franchise has hit upon its formula of combining groups of its copyrighted superheroes into several movies a year, still adding new characters from its comics to the mix (most recently Dr. Strange.)

The other comic book franchise, DC Comics, is trying to do the same with its formidable stable of superheroes, including the very first: Superman. Though its attempts to apply the Marvel formula have met with mixed results, it continues to stir fan interest as it adds more of its characters to its movies. Both franchises are expanding their demographic reach by transforming formerly white male characters into women and people of color.

Moreover the superhero movies are of a piece with other “tent pole” movie “franchises,” notably Star Wars and Star Trek. They also combine visual effects action on a huge scale with character repartee. At a recent screening of Dr. Strange, the trailer for the next Star Wars movie show it to be indistinguishable from past Star Wars movies. Meanwhile the music for Dr. Strange is almost indistinguishable from the music for the Abrams’ Star Trek films (particularly the first), by the same composer.

But in their escalating scale, the superheroes are losing their reason for being, apart from visual thrills and commerce. Superheroes now exclusively battle super villains, when they aren’t fighting each other. They are gods fighting other gods. They fight ostensibly to save humanity, but they are completely detached from people.

That’s not how they started, or what first endeared them to readers and made them heroic.

Superman, the first superhero, was born in the Great Depression. Jerry Siegel was 20 when he and Joe Shuster created Superman in 1934, influenced, he recalled, by “President Roosevelt’s ‘fireside chats...being unemployed and worried during the Depression and knowing hopelessness and fear. Hearing and reading of the oppression and slaughter of helpless, oppressed Jews in Nazi Germany...seeing movies depicting the horrors of privation suffered by the downtrodden...”

Siegel was also reading about crusading heroes and seeing them in the movies. He wondered how he could help these victims of the 30s. “How could I help them, when I could barely help myself? Superman was the answer.”

Strikingly unlike today’s superheroes, Superman’s first exploits were saving an unjustly condemned woman from the electric chair, and stopping a wife-beater. In his 1930s adventures, he rescued miners in a cave-in, battled stock market manipulators and munitions manufacturers fomenting wars to sell their wares. He fought crime, but also poverty and unsafe labor conditions. He came to the aid of individuals in trouble, and was devoted to the common good. He was a selfless, high-spirited and humorous hero of the people.

Later superheroes, like Batman and Spider-Man, were motivated by a sense of justice, partly because of past trauma involving crime committed against parents or parental figures. These days some superheroes (like Batman) and action movie villains tend more towards elaborate revenge fantasies.

Born in the early 1960s, Spider-Man achieved heroic status partly by battling powerful villains but also through navigating the difficulties of ordinary life. Like Superman, he had a secret identity and led a double life, which grounded him. His relationships and affections—with his parental figure elderly aunt his love interests and friends—as well as his un-superhero-like problems with a nasty boss gave him a human dimension. His exploits were often related to actual people he was trying to protect or rescue. The success of the Spider-Man comics jump-started the Marvel brand, and set the template for several of its other superheroes.

Today’s superhero movies are almost completely detached from recognizable people in individual trouble, or even groups of people in specific situations of danger and tyranny. With the violent abstraction of video games, they battle across interchangeable urban landscapes that are little more than visual Lego constructions to twist and destroy. This is not to say they are without value, or do not offer some ethical and philosophical points of view. But for all their manipulated excitement and cleverness, there is an emptiness at their center.

In some sense, movies like a lot else that depends on technology, do what they do because they are capable of doing it. I counted at least a dozen visual effects companies in the credits to Dr. Strange.

Beyond delivering new and more elaborate effects, it could be that this turn in superhero movies speaks to our sense of powerlessness over the forces that confront us. Perhaps when the climate itself seems to be turning against humanity, it seems too large to be addressed by the civilization that is thoughtlessly causing the climate to deform. It’s apparently a matter for cosmic forces, for the gods and their evil counterparts. But in these movies their battles are meaningless—just elaborate versions of fistfights and wars, that reveal nothing and accomplish only wish fulfillment victories.

But the dangers that confront us may not be beyond human capabilities to address. It even seems that soberly dealing with the climate crisis should be a fairly ordinary extension of current civilization, even if it requires heroic measures.

But perhaps it’s felt to be beyond ordinary, and beyond us altogether. That may be partly because as a culture we’ve avoided talking about it. It requires more: a vision of what is possible, and models that realize those possibilities. Some versions of the hero—of the original superhero-- might help. But that’s not what we’re getting in today’s popular culture.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Defining the Darkness.5

In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
He added:
Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California - so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!

Trump’s statements are baseless and misleading. It is not just, as many (though not enough) news organizations reported, that Trump provided no evidence for this. There simply isn’t any evidence for it. It isn’t real."

Presidents have lied on an important matter of fact, but usually when their lie is difficult to discover.  President Johnson lied about a North Vietnamese attack on an American ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, and demanded that the US respond with unfettered war.  That's when Vietnam became a war.  It was not generally acknowledged to be a lie until tragic years later.

In 2016, this is a huge lie about the basic American process of selecting our government, and it is not only easily refuted, it was immediately refuted.

That however also is different from the recent past.  News media did not call a President or president-elect a liar, and they did not note in headlines to the very story of what he said, that he had provided no evidence at all.

But after the campaign, this lie is not a surprise.  America is about to be governed by an administration that lies as a matter of course.  It deceives in every way possible.  This kind of lie however is transparent, to the country and to the world.

Some part of the country--perhaps half--seems inclined to believe these lies.  There is no limit to the foul lies spewed across the Internet that this administration in waiting is willing to embrace.

This pathological lying, beyond any sane politics, is a chief source of the shame that many of us are feeling at the outcome of this election, and how we look to the rest of the world, to history and to ourselves.

Of course, this could be a political diversion instead of the usual projection.  Even though the feds have announced that no foreign hacking is evident, the FBI has proven untrustworthy in this matter.  Could there be nervousness about the recounts?  There is some argument in the media about how tactical or strategic Trump's lies are, or are they deeply pathological.  Whatever mixture of the two is involved in these specific lies, the pattern of lying is paramount.

The ascendance of G.W. Bush to the presidency in 2000 was a national tragedy.  Some of us realized it would be, but in his campaign Bush lied in ways that could not be refuted.  He said he was against foreign intervention and "nation-building."  He said he took climate change seriously and would address it.  Then he invaded Iraq and not only prevented the US from joining the world community in figuring out how to address climate change, his administration stifled climate science as much as it could.

Those who thought there was no difference between Bush and Al Gore were naive and self-deluded.  But this year, national and world media made it crystal clear, over and over, that Trump is a liar. Some analyzes said that nearly 3/4 of his statements during campaign speeches were lies. (In the two tweets above, there are at least 6 lies made or implied.)  Over a period of months, it was made loud and clear that his suicidal policies are built on pernicious lies.  

That's a source of the shame that is upon us.  Persistent lies backed by power drive out facts, truth, reality.  That's what dark ages are about: the rule of ignorance, the disappearance of a common ground of reality and truth, the shadows falling over our time.

Be kind, be useful, be fearless.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Defining the Darkness.4

"A civil rights group is calling for more police protection of mosques after several in California received letters that praised President-elect Donald Trump and threatened Muslim genocide.

The Los Angeles Times reports Saturday  the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the same handwritten, photocopied letter was sent last week to the Islamic Center of Long Beach, the Islamic Center of Claremont and the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose.

The letter was addressed to “the children of Satan” and said Trump will “cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims.” It is signed by “American for A Better Way.”


This is only the most recent reported incident of racial intimidation.  Anecdotally,  Humboldt State minority students report a number of racial incidents both in town and on campus, including one report of a black student surrounded by whites making racial slurs.

These are just one expression of the racism and xenophobia that is coming out of the shadows. In fact, in psychological terms, this can be seen as classic cases of shadow eruptions--racism repressed because of societal disapproval, now unleashed due to perceived permission by a power shift in that society.

The image of a post-racial society was shattered during the Obama presidency, and now it seems that the image of millennials and younger Americans as especially "post-racial" was oversold.  Darkness spreads, and this may be just the beginning.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Defining the Darkness.3

"Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”."

The Guardian
November 22, 2016
(the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy)

Defining the Darkness.2

"Where are the superior minds, capable of reflection, today?  If they exist at all, nobody heeds them; instead there is a general running amok, a universal fatality against whose compelling sway the individual is powerless to defend himself.  And yet this collective phenomenon is the fault of the individuals as well, for nations are made up of individuals.  Therefore the individual must consider by what means he can counteract the evil.  Our rationalistic attitude leads us to believe that we can work wonders with international organizations, legislation, and other well-meant devices.  But in reality only a change in the attitude of the individual can bring about a renewal in the spirit of the nations.  Everything begins with the individual."

C.G. Jung
"The Role of the Unconscious" (1918)
Civilization in Transition p. 27.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Defining the Darkness

"As the contemporary world and its newspapers present the spectacle of a gigantic psychiatric clinic, every attentive observer has ample opportunity to see these formulations being enacted before his eyes.  A principle of cardinal importance in studying these phenomena is the one already stressed by analytical psychology: that the unconscious of one person is projected upon another person, so that the first accuses the second of what he overlooks in himself."

C.G. Jung
"The Role of the Unconscious" (1918)
Collected Works Vol. 10: Civilization in Transition
p. 25

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gratitude and My Last President

It's the time of the year to express gratitude, and I am grateful that I lived during the presidency of Barack Obama.  It already seems like it was all a dream. Considering what came before and what is to come after, maybe it was.

I've been trying to define my relationship to the American presidency but so far not successfully.  Maybe I'll have something cogent to say before this presidency is over.

 But I will say that along with my notions of what the President represents and what he means to the country is a more nuanced and practical appreciation of what the job is.  That's always been part of how I view the office and the individuals who held it in my lifetime.  The gold standard for scholarship apparently still is Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power.  I read that when I was 15, along with a book on similar lines written from within the Kennedy presidency: Ted Sorensen's Decision-Making in the White House.  These were the beginnings of seeing what the job is.  A job that humans do, within the limits of the day.

This time around I could not have asked for a better presidency, a better President and First Family than we've had for the past eight years.  It will be a beacon that shines for whatever history is left.

I've paid particular attention to this presidency and savored it, believing it would be the last I would follow and care about so much.  Now it seems it will be the last in other senses as well.

But, back to gratitude.  As the last continuing act of the year on this site, I'm posting some favorite photos from the Obama presidency, starting with this year and working back.

This group may include photos from earlier as well, but mostly the past year or two.  Because of the limitations of this template, some of the right side of photos posted "extra large" get cut off, so I may have to post some in a smaller size.  In any case, click on the photo to see it full size.

And for those also in the US, Happy Thanksgiving.

R.I.P. 2016 Edward Albee

"Are we to be one of those bizarre civilizations that is on the way to its downfall without ever reaching its zenith?"
Edward Albee

Edward Albee was a playwright and a force in American theatre for nearly 60 years.  He pretty much was American theatre in the early 1960s, and stood practically alone between the generation of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, and the explosion of late 60s/1970s playwrights like Sam Shepard and John Guare.

He shocked New York theatre with The Sandbox and Zoo Story in the late 50s, and was still shocking a much decentralized but once again timid American theatre with The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?) in 2002.  He wrote two American masterpieces in the 1960s--Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance that are also remarkable for how different they are from each other.  He wrote many other worthy plays throughout his writing life.

He was a tireless advocate for theatre and truth.  The job of a playwright, he said, was to get people to pay attention to the things they should be paying attention to. When the film success of "Virginia Woolf" put money in his pocket, he put it back into developing younger playwrights, thus helping to create the late 60s generation that essentially supplanted him as the fashionably daring voices.

The quote above comes from a speech he gave at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 90s.  I was in the audience and wrote those words down.  I've remembered them many times since--especially quite recently.

I met him after that speech. The original production of The Zoo Story was still running when I visited New York in 1965, and it was the first play I ever saw in New York.  (In fact, it was the first modern play I'd seen outside of college theatre, so it was shocking in a way to see actors of the same age at their characters.)  We chatted about who might have been in the cast when I saw it--it changed many times.

It turns out that this was a singular and formative production in his life.  It was an evening of two short plays--Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and Albee's The Zoo Story. They were first produced together in Germany when Albee was unknown, and Beckett not well known in America.  It was in fact Albee's first production.  "I saw my first Beckett play and my first Albee play the same night," he said much later.  "Both in a language I don't understand."

For those judging by the verbal violence of some of his plays, and the stringent integrity of his public pronouncements (or even his inflexibility with directors), his amiability and openness in person sometimes came as a surprise.  It did to me when I talked to him that day. He was patient and friendly and unpretentious.

Perhaps a key to understanding the apparent contradiction was something he said in several interviews I saw on YouTube shortly after his death was announced this fall.  For instance in the Theatre Talk in 2014 (in which he recounts seeing that first The Zoo Story, and mentions that Samuel Beckett was one of the funniest and gentlest people he'd ever met.)

"Participating fully in everything that happens to you is the exciting part of consciousness," he said.  Another quote to remember.

May he rest in peace.  His work lives on.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016


The Resistance to the home-grown Hitler's regime is organizing at all levels and among all groups, from environmentalists to civil rights advocates, even including Democratic officeholders.  And now a leader:

"President Obama is rethinking his plans to withdraw from the political arena after he leaves office next year, hinting to friends and supporters that he wants to add his voice to the shellshocked Democratic activists and elected officials who are now angrily vowing to oppose Donald J. Trump’s presidency."

"In his remarks to activists, Mr. Obama urged them to stop moping and to ratchet up their opposition to Mr. Trump by Thanksgiving. He promised to join their cause soon after, telling them: “You’re going to see me early next year, and we’re going to be in a position where we can start cooking up all kinds of great stuff to do.”

The rest of this New York Times article is about Democratic officeholders and advocacy groups resolved to oppose the coming tide of catastrophe.  A Politico piece is about Obama campaigns and White House alums organizing a Resistance.

The New Yorker has a long piece based on David Remnick's recent conversation with President Obama.  He's engagingly honest, and let's hope his hopes work out.  But if not, and in the meantime, the Resistance.

Remnick quotes President Obama on Internet information and the climate crisis:

The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, he maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”

That can't be the whole explanation, because the rest of the world is not fooled. Meanwhile, internationally, an angry world prepares to resist any Trumped-up efforts to derail the Paris climate agreement:

...with the election of Donald J. Trump — and his threat to withdraw the United States from the accord — shellshocked negotiators confronted potentially deep fissures developing in the international consensus on climate change. On the sidelines of the negotiations, some diplomats turned from talking of rising seas and climbing temperatures toward how to punish the United States if Mr. Trump follows through, possibly with a carbon-pollution tax on imports of American-made goods.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Be Kind, Be Useful, Be Fearless

"Be kind, be useful, be fearless."  President Obama's discussions with young people, especially White House interns, are full of acute observations and advice.  This quote was lifted by the WH in its weekly summary from his final session with this year's interns.

Unfortunately, it isn't on the very brief excerpt from this session posted on YouTube.  A longer and earlier q & a from a previous session is most interesting. President Obama talks about the origin of his optimism and is especially good on success.  He reminds them that they are "the most privileged people at the most prosperous and secure period of human history."  So the opportunities for doing good are enormous.

He reminds them that becoming President or a successful tech entrepreneur or film director involves a lot of luck. It depends on "certain breaks that you get, it's not because you're so much better than everybody else."  "But being useful, having a satisfying life, making a contribution--that is entirely within your control."

They are both worth seeing precisely at this difficult moment.  Unfortunately this simple phrase that is really worth absorbing right now, that should go viral and achieve lasting life, isn't on these videos.

"Be kind, be useful, be fearless" is to me the mantra for this moment and for the future.  I've added it to this site as a stand-alone quote and on the marque above, substituting for the Dylan song quote: "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there."  Because we're pretty much there.

It's a question now of how do we find our way in the dark.  "Be kind, be useful, be fearless," is a good start.